The first-half of the Carolina League season is nearing completion and the Frederick Keys are in the drivers seat to clinch their first playoff berth since 2007.
With 13 games left, the Keys lead the Northern Division by eight games over Wilmington. They have a magic number of five to win the division first-half title.
Frederick is 35-23, the first time since the end of the 2005 season that the Keys are 12 games over .500. After beating Potomac 3-1 last night, the Keys now have a season-high, six-game win streak. Their pitchers have allowed just 14 runs during the streak.
In 2007, by the way, the Keys won 64 games and lost 74 with some next-to-last pitching and hitting and fielding (or at least, errors committed) in the Carolina League, but got into the playoffs with a devastating first-half record of 32-37 (that's right. They were the first team in Carolina League history to win their division with a record under .500). The Keys then stormed into the championship, sweeping Wilmington behind a near no-no from Chorye Spoone. Spoone lost his perfect game in the 5th on an error and his no-hitter in the ninth with two outs on a homer. Those were the only baserunners in the game. The Keys then put away the Salem Red Sox in four games with Spoone clinching it with another complete game.
Spoone wasn't really that good, but he sure stood out on a pitching staff that included Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, Jason Berken, Brandon Erbe, and the immortal Bob McCrory. It's a real shame that he got hurt and hasn't really been the same since the 2007 playoffs. Pitching 18 innings in the playoffs probably didn't help, but he's still had a better career than I have.
Anyway, I didn't come here today to talk to you about Chorye Spoone, I came here to talk about the 2010 Keys, who are pretty much playoff-bound at this point. Unlike their championship cousins, these Keys have the Carolina League's third best offense with 4.93 runs scored per game and the second best not-offense (defense doesn't really sound right, does it?) with 3.95 runs allowed per game.
How are they scoring all those runs?
You're probably aware of Xavier Avery and Jerome Hoes substantial improvement this year. They are the youngest players on the Keys, and also arguably their best positional players. Hoes has been sick and hasn't played since May 15, but was sporting a .413 OBP and more walks than strikeouts. Avery, as duck will quickly tell you, disappointed somewhat last year in Delmarva but has improved his entire game with a .283/.343/.381 slash line, which James F. previously had a really good look at.
How are they preventing all those runs?
You might be shocked (not) to learn that Frederick's secret weapon is its pitching. Namely, it's pitching is mostly a little old for the A+ level - the average pitcher age is 22.8 years, but the bulk of the starts have been done by 24 year olds. It's a function of the depth in the system; there hasn't been enough room in the level directly ahead of this generation because of guys like Zach Britton, Tim Bascom, and now Steve Johnson.
Cole McCurry is starting to get a little exposed (everything is trending the wrong way) and hasn't been able to lower his walks (they're up), but he's still striking out almost a batter an inning. Rick Zagone's K-rate is way down this year, as is Nate Nery's. I'm not sure any of these guys are prospects even though they've all had some success in their early careers.
Oliver Drake is my favorite guy - drafted from Navy late because the Orioles were the only team to do their homework and find out that he was draft-eligible - and he's actually having some real success, putting the ball on the ground more and getting a slight uptick on his BB rate and his K rate. He's not tearing the door down, and he is 23 years old in A+ ball, but he has some potential.